Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lecture of a Lifetime

This man used to stalk me.
Everywhere I went, he went.

Normally I would have been extremely disturbed by such behavior however in this particular case postponed alerting the authorities due to the unique circumstances of the situation.

My first encounter with Randy Pausch occurred a few months ago as I was watching CNN recap their list of people to remember from 2007. Amongst the list of innovators, heroes, and activists highlighted was Pausch. I briefly watched the segment and gathered the basics of his story-he was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who had given a "last lecture" in September that became an international sensation when it was broadcast online-before I changed the channel and proceeded to watch a rerun of Gossip Girl.

My second run in with Pausch happened a little over a week ago when I was checking my email. As I looked through my messages, one from Borders Books entitled "This Year's Most Inspiring Book" caught my eye. Curious as to what this well of inspiration was , I opened the message expecting to see yet another title recommended by Oprah's book club. Surprisingly enough I was not met with Middlesex or The Measure of A Man but The Last Lecture, a book written by, you guessed it, Randy Pausch.

My third, and final, encounter with Pausch came last Sunday at brunch. As I settled down at the dining room table to enjoy my eggs and fruit, I picked up the LA Times and proceeded to sift through the newspaper, picking out my favorite sections. When I plucked out the Parade I once again came face to face with Randy Pausch, whose face was plastered on the cover.

By this time I had just about had it, so I decided to read the enclosed article to find out exactly what made this man was so special and why he and his story had infiltrated every corner of my life.

Last year 47 year-old Randy Pausch agreed to give a "last lecture" at Carnegie Mellon University, the institution at which he was a professor of computer science. The "last lecture" was not literally to be his last lecture, but rather a talk in which the he was to think about what matters most to him and what wisdom he would share with the world if he knew it was his last chance to do so. Last lectures are given at many colleges and universities around the world however Pausch's was especially unique in that a few weeks after being asked to talk, he learned that he was terminally ill with pancreatic cancer and only had a few months to live. With this discovery, the nature of his last lecture changed, as it truly became his final goodbye to his students. Rather than throw himself a pity party and cancel his commitment, this married father of three delivered his talk "How to Live Your Childhood Dreams" last September in which he discussed how he achieved his childhood dreams and provided realistic advice on how others can live their lives so that they could make their childhood dreams come true, too.

Although Pausch's lecture/book are full of heartening tales and advice, I picked out 3 of my favorite lessons of his to share:

1. Dare to Take A Risk
In a virtual-reality course that Pausch taught he encouraged students to attempt hard things without worrying about the risk of failure. At the end of the semester, Pausch presented "The First Penguin Award", a stuffed penguin, to the group that had taken the biggest gamble while not meeting their goals. He derived this award from the idea that when penguins jump in waters that are potentially full of predators, one of them must take the risk and be the first to jump in. Pausch contends that "experience is what you get when you don't get what you wanted" and is one of the most valuable things anyone has to offer.

2. Look for the Best in Everybody
Pausch learned this lesson from his friend, and hero, Jon Snoddy at Disney Imagineering. It was Snoddy who told Pausch that is he waited long enough, people would surprise and impress him. From this Pausch realized that when one is angry and frustrated with someone else, it may be because that person hasn't been given enough time. Although it takes great patience and can take many years, Pausch reaffirms Snoddy's assertion that "In the end, people will show you their good side" and that is you "just keep waiting, it will come out."

3. Dream Big
"I was born in 1960. When you're eight or nine years old, and look at the TV set, and men are landing on the Moon, anything is possible. And that is something we should not lose sight of: Inspiration and the permission to dream is huge." -Randy Pausch, 2007

This lesson is perhaps the most simple, yet most rich of them all. Pausch urges all people to not only give themselves permission to dream, but to fuel their kids dreams , too. This particular lesson really hit home with me because as Daily Kos reflected , "we are all busy chasing down something important" and always reason that "there's always time to investigate this later." In the process of doing so, we "begin to overlook the important stuff as we chase the next buck, or the next big thing." I can totally relate to this statement in that I feel like I'm always worrying about what I have to do next, where I'm supposed to go, and what I should be doing to get there (in high school, it was college, in college it's grad school, and in grad school it's the job force) that I've lost sight of the things that I used to dream of doing and have stopped pausing to truly enjoy and experience the things I want to do for much longer than a mere second.
Randy Pausch is truly an inspirational individual. Despite being terminally ill with pancreatic cancer, Pausch has maintained a purely positive outlook on life and unselfishly shared it with the world not for the money, or for the fame, but for his kids, as he believed hat by doing so he was putting himself in a bottle that would "one day wash up on the beach" for his children long after he has gone. His story not only touched my heart, but really reminded me to take a step back and remember what is really important in life and to live it to its fullest every day before it's too late.

Watch Pausch's Lecture Below (I urge everyone to take an hour out of their day to do so):

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